Teacher Leaders: Know Your Story, Share Your Story

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There are 3.3 million teachers in the United States, which means there are 3.3 million stories that need to be heard. What I’ve been wondering lately is, is it possible for these collective stories to become a critical catalyst to ensuring transformational teaching and learning experiences for students in this country, especially those who are subject to low expectations brought on by their race, nationality, language of origin, or disability?

No one knows teachers like teachers, and no one — in schools — knows students like teachers. This is one of the reasons why when we started ECET2 — Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers — we immediately penned the phrase, “Know Your Story, Share Your Story.”

ECET2: From The First Story To The Movement

My colleague Marshall Ganz, who teaches on the topic of “movements” at the Harvard Kennedy School, says something that seems so true about the ECET2 Movement — which is what teachers call ECET2. Ganz said, “Public narrative is not primarily about self-expression. It is an exercise of leadership by motivating others to join you in action on behalf of a shared purpose.” To think I had to come all the way to Harvard to find the answer to why story, teacher leaders, and action represent a triadic tidal wave that’s sweeping the country.

However, in order for this wave to realize its full effect, there must be systems and structures put in place which will enable teacher leaders and school leaders to work together to improve outcomes for adults and children. When it comes to a teacher leadership movement, this is the action that Marshall Ganz is talking about, and it’s what we had in mind when we started ECET2 in 2012.

The first story that was ever told at the National ECET2 Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona was my Ms. Scritchfield story. I told the story because I wanted the crowd of nearly 300 teachers to understand the life-altering impact that teachers have on students. Sure, I knew most of the teachers in the audience knew that already — but I wanted them to hear it the way I felt it. I wanted them to hear it in a story — one that would not just connect with them on an intellectual level, but at the heart level as well. Furthermore, I wanted them to go in search of their own story, and five years later, that’s what’s happening. So, Ganz was right! One story ignited action all across the U.S. as thousands of teachers connected at national, state, local, and school-based ECET2s and shared their stories. And thus, a movement was born.

The Next Phases of the Movement Require New Stories

So what’s the next phase of this movement going forward? I want to recommend that it’s twofold. First, I think we need to hear stories about teams of teachers, teacher leaders, and principals coming together to transform climate, culture, and teaching and learning opportunities in schools; and second, I propose we generate a movement of stories about race, implicit bias, and equity in our various fabrics of life. Obviously, one of these topics is more easily talked about than the other, but I actually wonder if stories are a brilliant way to ease into these critical conversations around race and equity. But before I go there, let me first talk about teams.

In a recent EdWeek blog post, I highlighted an important shift I think we need to make in the field of education. When it comes to key people-levers for improving schools, we talk too often about teachers or teacher leaders or principals. I don’t believe we’ll see the large scale improvement in schooling without all three working together in tandem, and we need individuals from each of these groups to share their stories of what this type of work looks and feels like.

I know it’s happening out there. I saw it on a recent visit to a school in Fairfax, Virginia. Teachers, teacher leaders, and the principal designed structures to enable collaborative time, regrouping of students, and reflection on practice. I could even imagine a “storytelling” session where members of all three groups stood together and shared their collective story… Can someone say, powerful!? And that collective share-out could be taken to a whole new level if that same group were able to talk about the work they do in schools to take on issues of race, implicit bias, and equity.

Beverly Daniel Tatum, former president of Spelman College and the author of Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race, recently gave a talk at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

One of the many things she said that stayed with me is that conversations about race are difficult, and consequently people tend to avoid them. She admonished us as educators to push past that discomfort and not only have initial conversations, but to persist with those conversations for the benefit of students — as well as ourselves. I think story provides a way to ease into potentially challenging conversations about race, implicit bias, and equity. And some of these conversations may even continue in the classroom with students, as evidenced by the work of teachers like Matthew Colley and Catherine Thompson.

Stories allows each individual to start with their own truth. Hearing others’ stories enables us to improve our ability to truly listen, as well as be open to others’ vulnerability, which increases the likelihood of connection and empathy. So many of these skills and abilities are lacking in the national discourse in our country, and I’m convinced that schools, teachers, and educators can be a catalyst for change.

That’s why I’m excited about the work the National Blogging Collaborative is doing all across the U.S. This grass roots educator collective — inspired and empowered by ECET2 — is looking to have an impact by raising their voices and the voices of teachers and educators who are doing the work every day. In the next few weeks, you’ll hear from a few of them, like Lisa Hollenbach, Brooke Perry, Chris Bronke, Brad Clark, and Renee Boss. They know their story, they must share their story, and together, their mission is to help you know and share yours.

I look forward to “listening” as you Lead Out Loud.

Irvin Scott is a Senior Lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with a concentration in Educational Leadership. Before joining the Harvard faculty, he served as the deputy director for K–-12 education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where he led the investment in initiatives focused on transforming how teachers are recruited, developed, and rewarded, and led a team to initiate the Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers experience. Irvin also led an effort at the Foundation to build strong partnerships and deeper engagement between faith-based organizations that serve underrepresented students, families, and communities. Prior to his Foundation work, he served over 20 years as an ELA teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and chief academic officer. Connect with Irvin on Twitter: @iscott4.

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